Zinfandel - Beyond the Blush

Jan 7, 2010

In my less fortunate days I didn't drink wine and consumed mostly beer and gin. When I started working for a local bar, I didn't have a clue about wine. I didn't know there were so many different varieties. I heard the words 'Shiraz', 'Merlot', then 'Sauvignon Blanc' and 'Cabernet Sauvignon'.

I was confused... 

"You mean wine isn't just red and white?" (My words exactly five years ago.)

Soon after working for the bar, I switched over to a liquor store. I was comfortable selling beer and spirits but here were all these wine bottles, all these intimidating labels and I knew almost nothing about them.

Over time I began to recognize different flavours and nuances but one variety that took me aback was Zinfandel. I didn't know what to make of it. I assumed it was just sugar-sweet wine. But there's more...

For many people (myself included several years ago), Zinfandel is 'pink', 'sweet' and a 'blush' (rarely ever called a rosé). Brands like Berringer or Sutter House (or Corbett Canyon)  come to mind when we hear about Zinfandel. But White Zinfandel is only part of the picture.

First things first, Zinfandel is a black grape.

Secondly, it's of European origin, related to the Plavac Mali variety of the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. 

And most importantly, Zinfandel has been a California wine staple for almost two hundred years.

First imported to the US in 1829, George Gibbs of Long Island brought the then unnamed variety from an Austrian (Croatia was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) Imperial nursery in Vienna. Zinfandel, also known as Primitivo in Puglia, Italy, took hold in the 1880’s when it became the favourite wine of gold miners of California.

In the 20th century, Zinfandel became overshadowed by White Zinfandel, a blush wine created in the 1970s by Bob Tinchero of Sutter Home. The popularity of the wine increased vine plantings.

Zinfandel of California is often seen in the same light as Shiraz of Australia, i.e. a cheap, easy drinking wine (Australia also makes Zinfandel). Before 1998, it was the most planted variety in California until it was superseded by Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, a vast majority of the grape is used for bulk blush wines. These 'white Zinfandels' are perfect for patio sipping with tasting notes reminiscent of strawberries, watermelon and pink grapefruit.

The red wine, however made from Zinfandel is typically jammy and full-bodied. The reason for this is that Zinfandel as a variety ripens unevenly on the vine. So while several grapes are ready and perfect, others have become raisin-like, contributing to their concentration (think stewed fruits) and high alcohol levels. 

Historic arch of Lodi, CA.

When I was first learning about red wine, I found Zinfandel to be a great introduction to the wines of California. Look for Zins from Lodi, a town in Central Valley, California, self-proclaimed 'Zinfandel Capital of the World'. "Stuck in Lodi", a song by CCR is frequently used in their grape festivals. 

As I mentioned, plantings of Zinfandel go back to the mid 1800s. Some of the most prized reds of California come from old vine plantings. These vineyards can go back as far as a hundred years. 

Zinfandel is rarely blended with other varieties, but Ridge Winery of California has proved to make wonderful blends (with Petite Sirah) using this popular grape.

Other names to look out for: Cline Cellars, Dry Creek Vineyard, Ravenswood, Seghesio, St.Francis,  and Turley in California and Kangarilla Road and Nepenthe in Australia.

California foods are all about health and fun. I recommend a vegetarian pizza (plenty of artichokes, olives and mushrooms) with a nice old vine Zinfandel.


Post a Comment

About This Blog

My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

  © Blogger template On The Road by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP